When the Kansas starters only account for only 19 points in the first half, there needs to be someone on the bench that can give Kansas basketball a spark.
In the past, Kansas coach Bill Self said he would rely on junior Jamari Traylor for an uplift in energy. But in the Kansas 81-72 win over TCU, freshman Devonte' Graham provided the spark off the bench, and it was well needed.
Before Graham checked in with 15 minutes left in the first half, the Jayhawks were down 8-4 to the Horned Frogs. Graham scored 11 points and gave Kansas an early 35-29 lead going into the break.
“We had some starters that really didn’t produce,” Self said. “We needed our bench to be good, but we don’t win the game without Devonte’.”
The surprise of the game was the bench responding well to the struggling starters and scored 37 points— 31 more points than the bench scored against West Virginia.
The key was Devonte’ Graham. He scored a career-high 20 points off the bench and went prefect from the field (7-for-7). Graham said the 100 percent shooting percentage was luck.
“There are definitely some things that I still need to fix; I haven’t been shooting the ball well,” Graham said. “I am just glad that I made shots and able to help the team.”
Earlier in the week, Graham expressed how upset he was with his performance lately. Since the TCU game in Fort Worth, six games ago, Graham has combined for just eight total points. He surpassed that total in the first half against TCU in the Allen Fieldhouse.
“It was all about the mindset for me,” Graham said. “I just tried to get in the paint and make plays for my teammates. I was more aggressive than I have been.”
And that’s exactly what Graham did, he was more aggressive and listened to Self to take the ball to the rim. Besides being perfect from behind the arc, Graham didn’t miss a contested layup in the paint. TCU coach Trent Johnson said he knew Graham would get to the rim and play well.
“The last time I check, you don’t come to Kansas unless you can play,” Johnson said.
Johnson also said he planned for the Kansas guards to drive to the basket, and Graham said he noticed the TCU defense and made a switch.
“I could tell on the way they were covering the ball screen [that I could get to the rim],” Graham said. “Coach [Self] was still telling us to find ways to get in the paint.”
Self saying he needed Graham to play more to help Mason out because Mason plays a lot of minutes. Mason was third in the Big 12 averaging 33 minutes per game and played 32 minutes against TCU even though Graham had a productive game.
Junior Perry Ellis, who had another career night scoring 23 points with seven rebounds, said he can notice a difference when Mason and Graham are both on the floor.
“[Mason and Graham] are both great with the ball and they see the floor well; everything is pretty smooth,” Ellis said. “[The offense] definitely moves faster.”
The Jayhawks will need Graham to stay consistent through the remainder of the season in order for Kansas to stay under control because Self can’t push Mason to play over 33 minutes anymore without the occurrence of fatigue.